Thursday, November 5, 2015

"A Vote For 'The Inquisitive Amateur"

In a radio sketch I wrote (and performed in), I once imagined an interview with a man who claimed that he knew where fish go in the winter.  The interview was abruptly halted, however, when it was discovered that the man was not qualified to know where fish go in the winter.

I wrote that more that forty years ago.

Giving it the appearance of a longstanding concern.


With the exception of sitcom writing, I am not certifiably qualified as an expert at anything.  The claim then that my argument in favor of the “Inquisitive Amateur” is transparently self-serving…

Well, what can I tell you? 

The observation is indisputably correct.

What I am arguing is like Pennsylvania people championing coal.

But I am doing it anyway.

As, by the way, are the Pennsylvanians.

I understand the importance of expertise.  Accredited physicist Richard Feynman ascertained why the “Challenger” blew up – “It’s the ‘O-rings’; they get affected by the cold and Kablooie!  If they had consulted me in the subject I’d have said, “I don’t know.  Ask Richard Feynman.”

Experts in their respective fields understand things that regular people, even regular thinking people, do not.

They invested the time and the effort learning things.  We merely frittered ours away.

Sometimes, however, when “professional” information is not required, and sometimes even when it is, because the solution is exclusive of that information, or, more significantly maybe, to the way of thinking about that information…

It’s like this.

You look at a problem, you think about it, and, not always but on a respectable number of occasions, questions – with the at least consideration-worthy answers sewn into their linings – spring to mind, and who knows?

Sometimes, you get some place.


What was labeled “Deflate-Gate”.  (Echoing a political scandal in the 70’s whose labeling actually made sense.)

After the last Super Bowl, it was discovered that the footballs used by the (victorious) New England Patriots had been insufficiently inflated by the team, creating – according to NFL regulations – an illegal advantage for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.  (Who apparently has small hands.)

Probing questions immediately arose:

Who was responsible for “Deflate-Gate”?  Who was aware of it?  And to what degree should the miscreants be punished?

My immediate first question, which, it was ever asked, was relegated to peripheral consideration:

“In a multi-billion dollar operation like the National Football League, why are the individual teams responsible for inflating their own footballs?”

Does that not seem important?

Moving on…

In the arena of “Personal Injury” litigation, Republicans invariably propose a cap on “Personal Injury” awards, arguing that under the current arrangement, it’s like the victorious plaintiff has – metaphorically – “won the lottery.”

To an “Inquisitive Amateur” a cap on “Personal Injury” awards makes zero sense.  If a victim requires a million dollars to be “made whole”, then, for example, a proposed award cap of two hundred-and-fifty-thousand dollars would make the aggrieved plaintiff only twenty-five percent “whole”, while seventy-five percent of them is left dangling.

“A quarter of me works.  The rest of me’s going, ‘Is that’s it?’”

The preceding remarks speak to “Compensatory Damages”, the damages the defendant pays the plaintiff to repair what the jury found them culpable for causing.  But in “Personal Injury” cases, there are often also “Punitive Damages” – do you remember the film The Verdict? – the additional “Punitive Damage” award was astronomical.  (Though it got applause from the audience.)

Reflective of its name, “Punitive Damages” punish the convicted defendant by requiring them to pay the victorious plaintiff more – often scarily more – than just “Compensatory Damages”, this auxiliary payment opening the “Award Process” to a not inaccurate comparison with winning the lottery.

The “Inquisitive Amateur” asks:

“Although I support 100 percent “Compensatory Damages” and I understand the appropriateness of “Punitive Damages”, what I do not understand is why the assessed “Punitive Damages” are allotted to the plaintiff?  (Do the police get to keep the ‘Speeding Ticket’ money?) 

“Provide the victorious plaintiff with what they need to become “whole”, and use the “Punitive Damages” to pay down the deficit.  Or anything. 

“There seems no reason for the determined penalty for the defendant’s wrongdoing to end up in the pockets of the plaintiffs.  Or, curiouser still, their attorneys.”


Pete Rose.

Although Pete Rose accumulated more hits than any player in history, he is ineligible for induction into the Hall of Fame because he is known to have gambled on baseball.

The “Inquisitive Amateur” responds (leapfrogging the question of whether Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame because, notwithstanding the objections, it’s stupid):

“Since I am aware that every inductee has a plaque in the Hall of Fame commemorating their accomplishments, why not induct Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame, and then inscribe on his plaque:

"Pete Rose accumulated more hits than any player in the history of the game.  Subsequently, contrary to clearly stipulated regulations, Rose was found to have gambled on the proceedings and was subsequently banished from participating in baseball for life.”

Put the guy in.  Lay it all out.

What I am saying with these three examples, and I imagine there are others, is:

It is not that the experts cannot see the forest for the trees.  It is that sometimes, they cannot see the questions (and their consequent answers) for their indisputable but potentially prejudicing expertise.

Make room for the “Inquisitive Amateur.”

It doesn’t have to be me.  But if you pick somebody,

It might be nice to recall who first brought this to your attention.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

First? Really? Wasn't the first inquisitive amateur Sherlock Holmes?


JED said...

I guess I could say something that everyone knows: The experts start out as inquisitive amateurs themselves. But then they find they love the subject and want to learn more. They devote themselves to it full time and become experts and, mostly, it works out pretty well. But sometimes (maybe too many times), the experts become entrenched in their subject. They get to know it so well that they feel they have all the answers within that narrow subject. For the good of everyone, they use their deep knowledge to fix things, answer questions and fulfill the needs of the non-experts. Any radical changes would mess up their ordered world and they either miss new things or fight off new things. Changes would mean they don't know something.

It happens that way in teaching, in technology, in parenting, in art, in science and in sports. It even happens in religion ("Lets just keep adding rules for people to follow so they think they are progressing toward perfection instead of realizing their imperfections and accepting grace."). But every once in a while, an inquisitive amateur comes along and sees a flaw. They can either say something about it (hopefully starting a beneficial change) or become an expert themselves where they would have the influence to change things.

This happened, in a very small way, recently in our company. We produced Product A and Product B for years. But over the years, changes were made to both and there was really no need for Product A anymore. Then an inquisitive amateur came along and pointed that out. "But we've always done it that way," I said. "There must be a need for both products." Well, there wasn't. And after a day or two of thinking, I see it will be easy to change and make things simpler for our customers. But if it had been left to the expert (me), it may have never happened. By the way, no one will lose their job because of Product A going away. We'll just be doing a better job on Product B.

Sorry. Too long. I should spend some time getting back to writing in my own blog instead of cluttering up yours.

Bob B. said...

As usual, I'm a day late, etc. Came across an interesting article in the WA Post yesterday or maybe Tues., regarding what they call Smart Drugs, which may improve the intelligence of an individual. The subject is on the periphery of your earlier post about improving ones IQ.

And should anyone ever inquire, I'll proclaim you the first to broach the subject of an Inquisitive Amateur within the narrow world of my 8.9 inch Kindle Fire HDX.

VictoryGarden said...

Simple solution to the Pete Rose problem. He has a lifetime ban from baseball. Just put him in the hall of fame after he dies. He doesn't get any benefit from it but his accomplishments as a player are still recognized.